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Benefits of Mindful Movement

Regular exercise is one of the fundamental components of a lifestyle that promotes holistic health and longevity. Research has found a dose-response relationship between exercise and lifespan; essentially, the more you exercise, the longer and more vibrantly you will live (1). Exercise is one of the Core 4 pillars of the Prime Meridian Healthcare™ philosophy, and its benefits can be even more profound when combined with mindfulness.

Exercise and Cardiovascular Health

Countless studies have found that increased levels of exercise are inversely associated with cardiovascular disease (CVD) and early mortality (2, 3). A recently published analysis of National Health and Nutrition Examination Survey 2007–2016 data found that higher levels of physical activity are directly associated with a lower 10-year CVD risk at every BMI category (4). Another large-scale cohort study found that the impact of regular physical activity nearly outweighs the negative impact of BMI on cardiovascular risk in middle-aged and elderly individuals (5). Even totally independent of changes in body weight, regular exercise has been shown to promote improvements in several metabolic and cardiovascular health markers such as blood pressure, lipid levels, and glucose homeostasis (6). In one study involving healthy weight and normoglycemic participants, increasing total energy expenditure by 16%–20% through increased exercise reduced all CVD risk factors without any diet intervention (7). It is important to note that increasing exercise can be beneficial regardless of current health status, but becomes of greater importance in treatment of individuals with existing cardiovascular diseases (8). While aerobic exercise is believed to have the greatest effect, all forms of exercise are beneficial. One study found that strength training for only an hour per week may reduce the risk of heart attack and stroke by 40%–70%, and decrease long-term metabolic syndrome and CVD risk, whether you meet aerobic exercise recommendations or not (9). In sum:

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Increasing exercise has been shown to decrease CVD and early mortality risk, and improve metabolic and cardiovascular health markers, regardless of weight or overall health status.

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Even at healthy BMI levels and without dietary intervention, increasing exercise reduces CVD risk factors.

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While beneficial regardless of current health status, increasing exercise is especially important to improve cardiometabolic health in those with existing CVD.

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A combination of aerobic exercise and strength training may be ideal for overall health, but strength training alone (even if you do not meet aerobic exercise recommendations) may improve cardiometabolic health and reduce CVD risk. The best exercise is the one you will consistently do.

The importance of movement is not just beneficial for the heart and the physical body; research suggests that regular exercise is one of the most effective ways to support mental and social health in all stages of life (10-12).

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the state of heightened awareness of the present moment. To be mindful, you must focus your consciousness on your feelings, body sensations, and everything happening around you at the current moment. This means that nothing influences what you do in the current moment other than the current situation. Complications of the past or things that may happen in the future should not influence what you are doing now. Mindfulness is generally associated with meditation, and for good measure, because meditation is the most evidence-based way to improve mindfulness. However, this heightened state of awareness can be practiced in every component of life, including movement. Mindful movement focuses on quality over quantity, and becoming more aware of your body’s cues—properly breathing, pushing yourself to safe and effective levels, and being able to adjust your workout depending on your body’s needs at any given time. Research has shown that mindset and practicing mindfulness increases focus on the activity and may promote better adherence to a new exercise program (13).

How to Move Mindfully

Increasing awareness and being more in tune with your body during exercise can provide a number of benefits. Overall, along with promoting adherence, mindfulness has been shown to increase overall physical activity and promote weight loss (14). There is also emerging research that due to the “mind-muscle connection,” mindfulness may promote better performance in both aerobic exercise and strength training (15, 16). Practicing mindfulness during exercise involves a few different concepts, depending on what you are doing:

#1

Turn off the music, put the smartphone out of view, and focus on becoming aware of how your body feels. Pay attention to your breathing, energy levels, and other physical cues during warmup so that you may adapt your workout for greatest effectiveness on that day.

#2

If strength training, focus on proper breathing (inhaling on eccentric (lowering) phase and exhaling on concentric (raising) phase). Feel your muscles contracting and relaxing with each repetition.

#3

If performing aerobic exercise, focus attention on your breathing and each stride or stroke. Concentrate on keeping a consistent cadence (pace of each step, stroke, pedal rotation) and making each movement count.

#4

During warmup, cool-down, or post-workout stretching, try to focus all attention on your movement and what you are stretching. Slowly ease your body into each movement and use slow repetitive breathing to help open up into each position.

How to Move Mindfully

Increasing awareness and being more in tune with your body during exercise can provide a number of benefits. Overall, along with promoting adherence, mindfulness has been shown to increase overall physical activity and promote weight loss (14). There is also emerging research that due to the “mind-muscle connection,” mindfulness may promote better performance in both aerobic exercise and strength training (15, 16). Practicing mindfulness during exercise involves a few different concepts, depending on what you are doing:

#1 – Turn off the music, put the smartphone out of view, and focus on becoming aware of how your body feels. Pay attention to your breathing, energy levels, and other physical cues during warmup so that you may adapt your workout for greatest effectiveness on that day.

#2 – If strength training, focus on proper breathing (inhaling on eccentric (lowering) phase and exhaling on concentric (raising) phase). Feel your muscles contracting and relaxing with each repetition.

#3 – If performing aerobic exercise, focus attention on your breathing and each stride or stroke. Concentrate on keeping a consistent cadence (pace of each step, stroke, pedal rotation) and making each movement count.

#4 – During warmup, cool-down, or post-workout stretching, try to focus all attention on your movement and what you are stretching. Slowly ease your body into each movement and use slow repetitive breathing to help open up into each position.

Exercise Guidelines

While more exercise is (almost) always better, the American Heart Association (AHA) has developed evidence-based recommendations. Unfortunately, most U.S. adults are not meeting them. According to the CDC, only 22.9% are currently meeting AHA guidelines for both aerobic and muscle-strengthening activities (16). To minimize CVD risk and promote overall health, the AHA recommends all adults (17):

Get at least 150 minutes of moderate-intensity or 75 minutes of vigorous aerobic activity, or a combination of both, per week. It is best to spread out exercise over several sessions throughout the week.

Partake in muscle-strengthening activities (such as strength training) at least two days per week.

Progressively increase time and intensity of exercise.

According to the CDC, the cardiometabolic and overall health benefits of exercise progressively increase up to over 300 minutes a week (16). So as long as it fits into your lifestyle and you can adequately recover, exercising (mindfully) an hour a day—every day—is one of the best things you can do for your heart, mind, and body.

Conclusion

Your physical and mental health are best when you are on the move, and combining movement with mindfulness can magnify the benefits. The AHA recommends you get at least 150 minutes of aerobic exercise and two sessions of muscle-strengthening activity every week, but exercise has a dose-response relationship with health and longevity, so there is no need to stop there. If you are interested in learning more about the benefits of exercise or need help developing a plan, schedule an appointment with your Prime Meridian Healthcare™ provider.

References

1

Effect of exercise training for five years on all cause mortality in older adults—the Generation 100 study: randomised controlled trial.

Stensvold D., et al.

4

Physical activity and risk of cardiovascular disease by weight status among U.S adults.

Zhang X., et al.

7

Calorie restriction or exercise: effects on coronary heart disease risk factors. A randomized, controlled trial.

Fontana L., et al.

10

Association between physical exercise and mental health in 1·2 million individuals in the USA between 2011 and 2015: a cross-sectional study.

Checkroud S., et al.

13

Mindfulness and acceptance are associated with exercise maintenance in YMCA exercisers.

Ulmer C., et al.

16

Importance of mind-muscle connection during progressive resistance training.

Calatayud J., et al.

2

Dose response between physical activity and risk of coronary heart disease: a meta-analysis.

Sattelmair J., et al.

5

Impact of physical activity on the association of overweight and obesity with cardiovascular disease: The Rotterdam Study.

Koolhaas C., et al.

8

Exercise-based cardiac rehabilitation for coronary heart disease.

Anderson L., et al.

11

Regular group exercise contributes to balanced health in older adults in Japan: a qualitative study.

Komatsu H., et al.

14

Exploratory randomised controlled trial of a mindfulness-based weight loss intervention for women.

 Tapper K., et al.

17

State Variation in Meeting the 2008 Federal Guidelines for Both Aerobic and Muscle-strengthening ActivitiesThrough Leisure-time Physical Activity Among Adults

Blackwell D. and Clarke T.

3

Accelerometer measured physical activity and the incidence of cardiovascular disease: Evidence from the UK Biobank cohort study.

Ramakrishnan R., et al.

6

Effects of Exercise to Improve Cardiovascular Health.

Pinckard K., et al.

9

Associations of Resistance Exercise with Cardiovascular Disease Morbidity and Mortality.

 Liu Y., et al.

12

A systematic review of the psychological and social benefits of participation in sport for children and adolescents: informing development of a conceptual model of health through sport.

 Elme R., et al.

15

From mental power to muscle power–gaining strength by using the mind.

Ranganathan V., et al.

18

The Physical activity guidelines for Americans.

Piercy KL, et al.